Tanjung Bungah state assembly member Teh Yee Cheu who yesterday announced he was quitting the DAP created another ripple today with the news that he would be contesting the state seat of Sungai Pinang under the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM).
It marks PSM’s debut in Penang’s electoral politics. Sungai Pinang is a fairly mixed lower-middle class area in Penang Island, dotted with low-income flats and settlements housing about 24,000 voters, where the DAP won comfortably with a 4,707-vote majority in 2013.
Yeu Cheu’s re-entry into the fray is likely to put him in the media spotlight, given the history of how he was gradually ostracised by his former party – despite many residents in Tanjung Bungah and elsewhere in Penang appreciating his efforts in confronting a development model that at times seemed to favour Big Business over the interests of ordinary people.
Yee Cheu is at pains to say that he still hopes for a two-coalition system at the federal level. But what exactly does he hope to achieve in Sungai Pinang?
“No doubt we had a change in the state government in 2008,” he acknowledges, when contacted. “But after two terms, while we are hoping for change at the national level, we would like to see Reformasi 2.0 at the state level.”
Yee Cheu hopes to see a greater diversity of voices in the Penang state assembly, so that there can be a real check-and-balance and a genuine separation of powers in the state government of the day.
This is something that was perhaps lacking in Penang over the last decade, and those who voiced dissenting views were invariably “slammed”, he claims.
“To have a third choice to represent the suara rakyat (people’s voice) would make the Dewan (Penang state assembly) more lively and hopefully more meaningful,” he says. The idea is to avoid a rubber-stamp model of one-sided decision-making in the state assembly.
“This is a very simple message. That is why I have been given the chance to contest under PSM.”
But Yee Cheu is realistic about his goal. “We are not even trying to change the state government.” That is probably an understatement as Pakatan Rakyat is likely to coast in Penang in the coming general election.
His plan instead is to solicit other opinions on policies that are not in favour of the rakyat such as cases of “affordable housing” beyond the reach of lower-income groups and the displacement of people from their traditional kampongs and settlements on the island to areas in southern Penang Island and mainland Penang.
But why contest in Sungai Pinang and not Tanjung Bungah?
Yee Cheu has four ready reasons.
“I had already stood for two terms in Tanjung Bungah. So I am putting into practice what I asked for – a two-term limit for chief ministers and MBs – even though for Aduns, I believe such a limit should only be optional.”
Secondly, he says, “I don’t want the politics of hatred to continue. I don’t want accusations that I used my previous party’s resources to build up my base in Tanjung Bungah to be used against me (if I was to contest there).
The diverse demographic make-up of Sungai Pinang also appeals to him: “Sungai Pinang is the most mixed area in Daerah Timur Laut (Penang Island North East District). So I look at it as a challenge to work on issue-based politics in solving problems in a harmonious way, using the experience I gained in Tanjung Bungah.
Finally, Yee Cheu notes that PSM is a socialist-based party; so “I hope I can share resources with a wide-range of rakyat in the low-to-middle class of society. I hope I can work together with the people to resolve housing, environmental and traffic concerns that affect them.”
Personally, I look at Yee Cheu’s contest as an outlet for all those disgruntled with the prevailing model of development in Penang – and it doesn’t hurt the BN-Pakatan contest at the federal level in any way.
Instead, though Yee Cheu didn’t say so explicitly, it gives people an opportunity to signal their concern over the worrying neoliberal inclinations of the Pakatan government in Penang.
The Penang government, if re-elected to power, may once again – and, in my view, mistakenly – regard a fresh mandate from the people as endorsement of its mega projects such as the controversial tunnel, the ‘three-islands’ project, high-end development on Pulau Jerejak and its RM46bn transport infrastructure shopping list, formulated by Big Business.
While Yee Cheu’s entry into the fray might seem meaningless in the context of Big Power politics in the coming general election, his move is a far-sighted one for the future: the setting up of a base in Penang to counter any state and local-level policies that are not in the best interests of the people – and the environment. This is also crucial given that Pakatan Rakyat has not mentioned anything about local council elections in its manifesto.
And so, the Sungai Pinang contest nicely sets up the state for more issue-based – and even ideological – contests in the 2022-2023 general election. Never a dull moment in Penang politics.